Girls build bridges to careers in engineering

Published 15 December 2011

bridgeTwenty-six girls from twelve high schools around northern NSW have had an experience that, in the words of one of them, was “very inspirational”.

“This was the second Women in Engineering Weekend we have run at the University of New England, and it was very successful as the girls told us how much fun they had had, and that they were now considering engineering as a career,” said Dr Janelle Wilkes, a lecturer in environmental engineering at UNE, who was one of the organisers of the event.

“It was fantastic to see the girls engaged in surveying, designing and building bridges (as pictured here), designing highway bypasses, and site visits, and then to see the wonderful support of their parents who came along to the bridge testing,” Dr Wilkes said.

At one of the sites visited, Dr James Turnell, Senior Engineer Sewerage and Solid Waste for Armidale Dumaresq Council, said: “I was really impressed with the positive attitude of the budding young engineers, as they showed great enthusiasm for learning about wastewater treatment and waste management. They were unafraid to really get in there and take a look.”

The girls – all of them in Years 9-11 – travelled to UNE from Armidale, Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Coonabarabran, Glen Innes, Grafton, Gulgong, Kempsey, Maitland, Mudgee and Tamworth for the weekend (Friday 25 – Sunday 27 November) and stayed at UNE’s Mary White College.

UNE – in collaboration with Roads & Maritime Services (formerly the RTA), the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA), the Women in Engineering group within Engineers Australia, Armidale Dumaresq Council and local professional organisations and employers – is working to attract more women students into engineering. UNE is aiming to boost the percentage of women in its Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree program from the current 8% to 20% by 2013. The Women in Engineering Weekend was designed to demonstrate to the participants the value and attractiveness of engineering as a career choice for women, and the written feedback from the girls showed that this had worked.

“It was wonderful to see so many other girls with the same interest come together and work together, sharing thoughts and ideas,” said Emma Hayes from Coffs Harbour High School. Emma was one of three students whose work over the weekend won them prizes of a week’s work experience with Roads & Maritime Services; the others were Dawn Vassel (Gulgong High School) and Sarah Robinson (McCarthy Catholic College, Tamworth).

Book prizes went to Brooke Cooper (PLC Armidale), Esteriana Ewkawati (Glen Innes High School), and Lani Dean and Tiffany Van Dam (Bellingen High School).

“We had wonderful support from Roads & Maritime Services and Armidale Dumaresq Council – including financial support and personnel who ran many of the activities and site visits over the weekend,” Dr Wilkes said. “Support also came from the IPWEA, Engineers Australia, and many of the local councils in the areas the girls came from.”